"Hitting all the right notes"
by Cameron Dunham for remotegoat on 09/06/16

Tower Theatre’s musical “The Return of the Marionettes” is that rare beast of fringe theatre: an originally scripted production with genuine mainstream appeal. This show has got serious legs on it and has the potential to run and run.

The premise is simple and familiar: fledgling group get picked up by manipulative management, enjoy success, split up and, finally, get back together. It belongs in the same category as “The Commitments”, “Dreamgirls” or even “This is Spinal Tap”. In fact, like the latter, it has superbly crafted, original songs deftly performed by the productions own, rock ’n’ roll band. The show is worth seeing for the soundtrack alone: the songs are killer and the band totally rock.

The four “Marionettes”, in both decades, are uniformly excellent. The seething tensions in the battle for lead singing dominance between sultry songstress Mary and wailing wild child Cathy are the heart of this engaging piece. Angharad Ormond and Fiorella Osborne display real star quality in their portrayal of the young incarnation of the pair whilst Stella Henney and Annette Ross communicate world weary cynicism and new age optimism, respectively, in their roles as the more mature couple. There is also a consistency to the portrayals of the Meltzer sisters which superbly communicates that no matter what decade they are in, these two are firmly caught in the middle of a war of egos.

This show is all about the girls and it’s great to watch an original production which offers so many plumb roles to actresses across the age spectrum. Having said that, the boys don’t dip out completely: Brad Johnson both looks and sounds the part of Marionette manager George Ellis; playing the part of the narrator, he keeps the story moving whilst also enjoying a few tender scenes of his own: I wondered if there was scope for a bit more chorus work from George during the play’s denouement: it might have rounded things off nicely! We also get some familiar, music industry ghouls in the shape of Jonathan Wober as a pitch perfect parody of Phil Spectre and Julian Farrance as a reptilian, mercantile record boss. There are tasty power cameos from James McKendrick, deliciously seedy as a music show host and impressively Elvis like as Eddie from the Metrotone’s and Michael Bettell has some of the best comedic moments as well as delivering some great vocal performances.

The show’s not without its flaws: I personally felt that the narrative dragged its heels a touch in the second half, perhaps a few of the non-essential scenes could have been trimmed or cut, and there were a few technical hitches but, hey, let’s not split hairs: this is an incredibly ambitious production for fringe theatre and it is enormous fun to watch. I caught it on the opening night and it’s just going to get better and better.

Appropriate for all ages, “The Return of the Marionettes” punches at a West End weight.

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